Transitioning from the military is an experience that everyone who wears the uniform will go through at some point. For some, it is a smooth and easy process. For others, transition gets tough and must be navigated carefully in order to make it through. Starting with a good plan and starting early can definitely help make transition easier, but what happens when things don’t go according to plan? What happens when a transition plan fails and things don’t go your way?
When Things Don’t Go as Planned
One year and counting and I am right where I need to be. Sitting in my five-day mandatory transition workshop, pen in hand, notebook open. I know this will require my full attention. Getting a resume together, thinking about where to live and making a successful transition to civilian life. For 12 months I constructed a well thought-out plan and took full advantage of all of the great advice offered through various transition classes. I knew without a doubt that my plan would be a success. I was starting my transition leave and I had a signed employment letter in hand. Things were looking great and I felt like I had mastered my transition. But what happens when plans begin to fall apart? What happens when things don’t go your way?
Don’t Stay Stuck
With my employment letter in hand I celebrated. I signed a lease for a new post-military apartment and began to plan more steps for my new life. That is until my phone rang one day and the voice on the other end explained that there was an issue with the job. All of a sudden, the wonderful job that I had worked so hard to land in time to exit the military no longer existed. I sat in my new apartment staring at the half-empty boxes. Holding my newly signed lease, I wondered what to do. I immediately started to think about my decision to get out of the Army. Had I made a mistake? Everyone told me I was making the wrong choice. Maybe they were right. Had I been too arrogant in thinking through my transition plan? I was stuck, spiraling in a world of second guesses. I never expected my transition to take a turn like this, but I knew I couldn’t stay stuck second-guessing my decision. What good would it do anyway?
When I coached high school football, one of the things I used to tell my players was similar to the old Vince Lombardi Quote. “It’s not whether you get knocked down that matters. It’s what you do when you get back up that makes all the difference.” Sometimes life gets tough, and transition is no different. The key is to catch your breath and figure out where you need to get to. Most importantly, get up, move on, stay positive, but don’t stay stuck.
How to Stay Motivated
It’s easy to be motivated when things are going great. But what about when bills begin to pile up? What about when job offers turn into job denials? Where do you find your motivation? I found it in the eyes of my family and loved ones. My 9-year-old daughter reminded me that everything would be just fine. My wife stood by my side, picked up the slack and reassured me that everything would work out. My mother, in her motherly way, reminded me that everything happened for a reason. I know the circumstances weren’t ideal but that’s how life works sometimes. Under less-than-ideal circumstances we accomplish some of the greatest things in the military. In the words of Dale Carnegie, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying where there seemed to be no hope at all.” Connecting with people who supported me was the key to keeping my motivation. Whether it’s a close friend, a family member or a group of veterans who know what you’re going through, it’s important to tap into these relationships. Take help when you need it, learn when you need to learn and remember, everything is temporary. When transition gets tough, don’t second-guess yourself. Have confidence, don’t stay stuck and stay motivated and things are bound to change for the better.
Jamaal Wheaton is a transitioning Army veteran with over 12 years of active duty service. He is founder and owner of The Wheaton Group, a public relations firm that specializes in being a voice for veteran and military-related issues. Jamaal shares his personal experience of transition with the hopes of helping others navigate the through their own transition.